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Three men are facing years behind bars for the January shooting in a West End 7-Eleven parking lot that left a bystander shot in the neck.

On March 14, the Alexandria Grand Jury charged city residents Maurice Turner, 18, and Donovan Copeland, 20, and Fairfax County resident Damonte Martin, 21, with three felonies: malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and maliciously shooting at an occupied vehicle.

The incident occurred on Jan. 9 at around 3:20 p.m. in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven at 30 S. South Reynolds Street. The Alexandria Police Department reported that two of the suspects left the store, got into a parked car and then fired multiple shots at another car.

“During the shooting, an innocent bystander was shot in the neck and transported to the hospital,” according to the office of Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “The victim was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.”

The trio were pulled over and arrested shortly after the incident by Alexandria Police.

The men will be tried together, and a trial date has not been set. They are being held without bond in the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center.

The malicious wounding charge is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison; the shooting at an occupied vehicle charge is punishable by up to 10 years; and the use of a firearm in commission of a felony charge is punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.

Via Google Maps

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The George Washington Birthday Parade returned to Alexandria on Monday after a two year hiatus. The streets of Old Town were lined with celebration for Washington’s 290th birthday.

Alexandria’s health care workers and first responders marched as parade grand marshals. The parade, which started at Gibbon and Fairfax Streets and snaked around City Hall, was attended by thousands. The event is the largest of its kind in the world honoring the founding father and first president.

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The William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center (Photo via City of Alexandria)

Over the last decade, Alexandria’s jail has been getting a little less crowded.

Since 2011, the average population at the William Truesdale Adult Detention has generally trended downward. Even pre-COVID there was an 18% population decrease since 2011, which only became more pronounced during the pandemic. In 2011, the average daily population in the Alexandria jail was 430. In 2019 it was 352. This year it’s 277.

Alexandria isn’t alone in this. Nationwide, the incarceration rate has been on the decline since peaking around 2008, according to Pew Research. In Fairfax County, the jail population has nearly halved sine 2010.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said that, beyond the national trend, some of that decline comes from a local move away from incarceration as the primary response to conviction. Porter said at his office that the emphasis has been on mental health treatment and substance abuse court to decrease the number of people in jail for property crimes and non-violent offenses.

“I also think you have to give some credit, how much I don’t know, to the fact that in Alexandria we have tried to put more emphasis on addressing the root problems of crime,” Porter said. “The Alexandria Jail is known for the programs of people housed there, like GED and substance abuse programs to give them the tools to reduce recidivism.”

Porter said both state-wide prison populations and local jail populations have been gradually trending downward for inmates with non-violent charges or convictions. Overall crime has been declining as well, though Porter acknowledged that violent crime has been increasing.

“Over the past 12-24 months nationwide there has been an uptick in violent offenses,” Porter said, “and I think [locally] we’ve seen that we’ve had some increase in firearm incidents.”

Sheriff-elect Captain Sean Casey said some of the jail population decreases could be credited to legislative changes.

“The legislature has made legal changes over the years that deal with criminal justice reform,” Casey said. “There’s been bond reforms, so more people are getting bonds and getting out, rather than just sitting in jail. If more people are getting out on bond, that’s fewer people (who) are in here.”

Casey said those changes have reduced the number of inmates in jail for larceny or drug charges.

Porter is a little more skeptical that state-level changes have impacted the local jail population.

“At least locally, state changes haven’t had as much of an impact, because my office has historically been ahead of the curve on these issues,” Porter said. “For instance, even though larceny threshold remained $200 until 2020 or 2019, we had upped it internally and were not prosecuting thefts for less than that as felonies. Same thing with drug possession. Simple possession: we’ve always been really keen to get those cases diverted or treated as misdemeanors. But the reality for marijuana was no one was going to jail for simple possession. I don’t think statewide changes really have had much of an impact on the jail population locally.” Read More

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Bryan Porter says he must be doing something right.

Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, just won an uncontested reelection as a Democrat for his third term.

“I must be doing something right,” Porter said of the election. “Hopefully it shows that I’ve got the right blend of forward-thinking policies, and that I help keep the community safe.”

A lifelong Alexandrian, Porter took office in 2014, and spent his first two years in office consumed with prosecuting Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience.

“When I first got elected, an elected politician who will remain nameless told me, ‘Hey, you just got just got elected. Don’t screw this up,'” Porter told ALXnow. “That was his mantra. I like to think that eight years in I haven’t screwed it up, and my goal is to leave the office with its reputation intact, so I can hand it off successfully to whoever comes after me.”

Porter continued, “Remember that I’m just one small drop of water in the ocean of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.”

Porter, who has tried 11 murder trials and more than 50 jury trials, would also go on to write a children’s book in 2019. He is credited with founding the Alexandria Mental Health Initiative and the Alexandria Treatment Court as alternatives to jail for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“I’m very humble about the whole thing,” Porter said of the election. “And the only reason I’ve done so well is because my predecessor, Randy Sengel, left me very good office without hardly any personnel issues or policy issues. I’ve got really good people working for me, we seem to do a pretty good job of recruiting and getting really good people to work.”

Porter lives with his wife in Old Town. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.

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A 23-year-old man is awaiting extradition to Alexandria for the November 7 murder of a man in the West End.

Ahmed Mohammed Shareef, of Cosa Mesta, California, was indicted by a Grand Jury for killing 23-year-old Yousef Tarek Omar in the 4800 block of West Braddock Road. It was the City’s third and final homicide of 2020.

“It is alleged that the murder was committed in furtherance of the drug trafficking organization,” the  Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Shareef is one of 17 people indicted and arrested on charges related to a racketeering conspiracy that involved a “complex drug trafficking organization” allegedly responsible for the sale of approximately $500,000 worth of marijuana.

The investigation, which included multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the region and in Washington State and California, resulted in the seizure of at least 23 firearms, including three assault rifles and high capacity magazines. At least $274,795 in U.S. currency was also taken, in addition to cocaine and other controlled substances, digital scales and electronic money counters, fake identification and driver’s license cards, and multiple vehicles.

“I want to thank the Alexandria Police Department’s Vice/Narcotics Section and the multitude of partner law enforcement agencies for their diligent and professional work on this investigation,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said. “The collaborative effort between the partner law enforcement agencies shows true professionalism and determination to halt the cycle of violence inherent in complex drug trafficking organizations.”

Shareef faces life in prison for the murder charge, three years for the firearms charge and up to 40 years for the racketeering charge.

No trial dates have been set.

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Morning Notes

Suit alleging admissions discrimination at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology moves forward — “More than 70 percent of the student body at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is Asian American; Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented there for decades. At a hearing Friday in Alexandria, lawyers for the Fairfax County School Board urged a judge to toss out the lawsuit. They argue that the new admissions policies are race-neutral. But the judge ruled that the parents’ group made a compelling claim that the board’s true motivation was to increase Black and Hispanic representation at the expense of Asian Americans.” [WAVY.com]

Alexandria Symphony Orchestra extends contract for Maestro James Ross — “The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) announced that Music Director James Ross received a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Ross has been at the helm of ASO since 2018. He is the fifth music director in ASO’s 78-year history.” [Zebra]

Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office tackling workplace stress with wellness challenge — “May is National Employee Health and Wellness Month. For the first time, my office has fully embraced that designation by implementing our ‘Mindful May Wellness Challenge.’ In addition to providing our employees with advice on mindfulness, we have constructed a month of activities and events designed to focus on employee wellness.” [AlexTimes]

Alexandria Drive-In announces June movies — “Tickets are $40 per car, and food trucks will be on-site each night providing delish, savory, and sweet concessions with online ordering through Goodfynd! Proceeds from the movie series will benefit local Alexandria charity, ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab.” [Alexandria Living]

New sign unveiled in Del Ray for hero Rocky Versace — “Alexandria’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Del Ray bears Versace’s name and now, through the efforts of the Friends of Rocky Versace and the City of Alexandria, that narrative was unveiled May 15 during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the local landmark.” [Gazette]

Local businesses struggle adapting to new mask guidance — ‘”My fear is that people will say they’re vaccinated when they’re not vaccinated and then just walk around unmasked,’ said Nicole McGrew, owner of the clothing and accessories boutique Threadleaf in Old Town Alexandria.” [NPR]

This Friday is the deadline to request a ballot by mail — “Last day to request a ballot by mail for the June 8 Democratic Party Primary Election. Applications must be received in the Voter Registration Office by 5pm. Applications may be submitted online (http://elections.virginia.gov) or by mail, fax (703.838.6449) or email ([email protected])” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Overcast with rain showers at times. High around 70F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%… Rain showers early with overcast skies late. Low 59F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Surveillance investigator — “DigiStream Investigations, a fast-growing private investigations firm, seeks a full-time Surveillance Investigator to work under general supervision, investigating suspicious worker’s compensation claims from various corporate clients in the state of Virginia. This autonomous position is both journalistic and investigative in nature, and centers around obtaining quality video footage and detailed report rendering on the activities captured by the investigator.” [Indeed]

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Bryan Porter wants to be known for “quiet competence,” except while playing guitar in his office to relieve stress.

Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, is running uncontested as a Democrat for his third term, and says the city has become a safer place under his watch.

“I’ve done my best to be thoughtful, compassionate and understanding,” Porter told ALXnow. “I’ve been ahead of the curve on our Mental Health Initiative and the Drug Treatment Court trying to divert people through criminal convictions wherever possible, our marijuana policy and about five or six different things of which I think I got it right a little bit before the legislature changed their tunes.”

Porter took office in 2014, and spent the next two years completely focused on prosecuting the case of Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience, and said that every fiber of his being was focused on a conviction.

“Every ounce of my free time almost had to be dedicated to investigating that case and putting it together and prosecuting it,” Porter said. “It really wasn’t until February of 2016 that I was able to put my entire focus on the office.”

He continued, “A lot of it for me was kind of trial and error, because I had never received any formal training on how to lead and I had never been in a leadership position before… I think I’m a much better leader than I was when I began.”

Porter said that non of his previous experience prepared him for the COVID pandemic.

“In January of last year, the city manager spoke to all of the department heads together,” he said. “He said this was going to be exceptionally difficult, and basically the worst pandemic that any of us had ever seen and that it was going to severely impact the the operations and each of our offices. I think there was a lot of uncertainty, employees were very very frightened about their families, their children, particularly if they had elderly people or children living with an orderly family members, a lot of stress on employees, a lot of unease and anxiety about what the future was going to hold.”

The Alexandria Courthouse is reopening Monday after being closed to the public for more than a year. While traffic citations are relatively caught up, Porter said there is a backlog of jury trials that will take time to sift through.

“For more than a year we’ve been almost incapable of putting on a jury trial,” he said. “The trial schedule for jury trials over the next 12 to 18 months is very full, and we’re trying to litigate cases that have been postponed due to COVID.”

To relieve stress, Porter says he plays an acoustic guitar in his office. During his free time, he also plays in a 90s cover band “Old Bailey and the Bondsmen”, which is made up of law enforcement friends. The lead singer is Tracy Quackenbush Martin, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Halifax County.

“I don’t do it in the morning, because people are busy, but I’ll play it in the afternoon,” Porter said. “Like if I if I need a little stress relief or something. I think that might slightly annoyed some of the people in my office, but I try to be respectful if I get into a song where I have to play some power chords pretty hard.”

Porter, who lives with his wife in Old Town, is an Alexandria native and graduate of T.C. Williams High School, where is father John Porter was principal. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and then briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.

He recalls not owning many suits after his first election in 2014.

“I remember my dad took me to ‘Today’s Man’ in Bailey’s Crossroads,” Porter said. “He brought me in there and he’s like, ‘Okay, listen. You got to have at least four suits. I’m gonna buy you four suits and four shirts and four ties and a pair of shoes, but since I’m buying they can’t be top of the line.”

Porter said that he doesn’t want to be Commonwealth’s Attorney forever.

“At some point the right call is for you to move on and allow somebody with new ideas and new energy to occupied the time temporarily occupied,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t think I’m in a position to go out to pasture quite yet. I feel like I’ve brought a lot of energy to the office over the last two terms. I’ve created a lot of positive change, and so for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep going as long as I’m able to bring that type of energy to make positive change.”

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A 20-year-old Alexandria man faces life in prison plus 13 years for five felonies, including the murder of 47-year-old John Pope last fall in the West End.

Pope was shot to death on Sept. 30 at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. It was the second murder (of three) that occurred in Alexandria last year.

Tavon Lanier, who was 19 at the time the incident occurred, was indicted with:

  • First degree murder
  • Use of a firearm in commission of murder
  • Robbery
  • Use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery
  • Illegal possession of a firearm

“Alexandria Police responded to the apartment and found John Pope, a 47-year-old Alexandria resident, lying on the floor with an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter’s office said in a statement. “First Degree Murder and Robbery are both punishable by life in prison. The two Use of a Firearm charges carry a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison. The Illegal Possession of a Firearm charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Therefore, the maximum total sentence in this matter is life in prison plus 13 years.”

A trial date has not been set.

As previously reported, Lanier was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed. He was arrested on Sept. 22 for for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

Lanier was convicted of identify theft in 2019, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended.

Photo via Facebook

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It was a cold and snowy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on plans to redevelop the GenOn power plant in Old Town North. It looks like deconstruction of the plant will start in 2023 and developers are looking at converting it into an urban, mixed-use property with housing.

The short work week started with news that Alexandria reached 10,000 cases of COVID-19. The latest figures show that there are 10,113 cases and 104 total deaths in the city, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The city’s seven-day moving average is now 35.1 cases.

A 49-year-old homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria on Tuesday morning, and the mayor told us that homelessness is on the rise in the city. ALXnow is following up with the city on the issue.

Tuesday morning also brought news that Alexandria City Councilman Mo Seifeldein abandoned his run for mayor and will not seek reelection to council. Seifeldein was hired as a trial lawyer by the U.S. Department of Labor in Jan. 2020, and while he can finish out his term on council, he can not run unless he files as an independent candidate.

In other election news, the race for city council is starting to get crowded, as Bill Rossello, a co-founder of the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook Group, just threw his hat into the ring.

On the vaccine front, the waiting list has surpassed 45,000 and it may be until late summer that the vaccine is widely available in the city. On Thursday, Mayor Justin Wilson also asked the governor to open vaccine eligibility for restaurant, personal care and retail workers.

More than 200 people responded to this week’s poll on power outages. There have been a number of outages over tha last year, and 73% of respondents reported experiencing an outage, while 26% report that their homes haven’t been impacted.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Developers Lay Out Multi-Year Timeline for GenOn Plant Redevelopment
  2. BREAKING: Homeless Woman Found Dead on Mount Vernon Avenue
  3. Alexandria Boxer Troy Isley Goes Pro With Big Fight Next Week
  4. Seifeldein Not Running for Mayor, Leaving Alexandria City Council
  5. ALXnow’s Top Stories this Week in Alexandria
  6. Director of Finance: Alexandria’s Real Estate Assessments Are a ‘Tale of Two Markets’
  7. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  8. Torpedo Factory Overhaul Heads to City Council Next Month
  9. Snow: Up to 6 Inches of Snow and Ice Expected in Alexandria
  10. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Investigate Second Car Stolen While Owner Pumps Gas
  11. Local Facebook Watchdog Group Founder Bill Rossello Announces Run for City Council

Have a safe weekend!

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After 16 months in operation, the Alexandria Drug Treatment Court has its first graduate. The program, which the Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney’s Office started with little funding, also just got a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Treatment Court launched in September 2019 as an alternative to jail for individuals with substance abuse issues. Most participants have been to jail multiple times. Participants usually meets every Thursday in the Alexandria Courthouse, although the building at 520 King Street is largely shut down now due to COVID-19 and meetings have been held virtually.

Program graduate Kim Christian (not her real name) entered the five-phase program in Nov. 2019 and graduated in a virtual ceremony ahead of schedule, as two years is the program average. She regularly met with a case manager, a probation officer, participated in recovery programs and regularly checked up with the court.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said the virtual ceremony was a moving experience.

“One of the most wonderful things about the ceremony was the fact that the graduate, for the first time, had people within the criminal justice system trying to help her achieve something,” Porter told ALXnow. “The graduation ceremony was a true testament to the power of the program, and making a change.”

The new funds will allow Porter to triple the program for up to 30 participants, hire a full-time bilingual therapist, and also hire a treatment court coordinator to take administrative duties off the plate of David Lord, the assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney who has largely led the effort. Drug testing for participants will also be expanded.

Porter said it will take six-to-nine months to hire the new staff and expand the program. In the meantime, he said, the program will be slowly ramped up to increase the number of participants.

“The idea is to try to finally put some resources into them to kind of break that cycle of addiction and then recidivism,” Porter said. “One graduate is great, but we need more graduates.”

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